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Ivan repairs continue

After repairing homes damaged by last year's Hurricane Ivan, Christian Reformed World Relief Committee volunteers are cleaning up the kitchen at their housing facility.

BY HEATHER MOYER | GULF BREEZE, Fla. | October 6, 2005


"I've got a bundle of energy that needs to be put to good use."

—Sylvia Roon


After a busy day repairing homes damaged by last year's Hurricane Ivan, Christian Reformed World Relief Committee volunteers are cleaning up the kitchen at their housing facility.

These volunteers are just the most recent team in the Pensacola area making home repairs lingering after Hurricane Ivan devastated the region last year. The crews spend three-week terms in town doing everything from ripping out walls to installing cabinets to putting up insulation -- and not all in the same home.

"The teams will likely hit five to six places during their terms," said John Elsinga, CRWRC project manager in Pensacola.

Elsinga said CRWRC works with Rebuild Northwest Florida on the home rebuilds and repairs. This partnership has been in place since early 2005. He added that their 20 to 25 home completions thus far may not sound like many, but each one took major work to complete.

For the volunteers, the experience is frequently life-changing. The CRWRC volunteers come from many different places such as Wisconsin, Ohio, and even Canada.

Michigan resident Sylvia Roon is one of the first-time volunteers in this most recent crew. "I've loved it and I've made some terrific friendships," she said. "I've put up drywall, put down flooring and learned to caulk windows."

And while they work very hard, they also get the occasional play time in, too. That night after doing the dishes and setting the table, the entire 15-member work crew took a trip to the ice cream parlor for some much-needed relaxation.

As tables full of smiling volunteers chatted happily around her, Roon said it's more than just the friendships that have made the experience so worthwhile. The interaction with the homeowners - many of whom have been out of their homes for a year - is very valuable.

"They're so grateful and want to know what they can do for us. Some have made us lunch or brought us popsicles in the hot weather."

She added that she feels like she's only putting a little dent in the vast pool of disaster recovery work, but CRWRC Site Manager Bonnie Wiersma said Roon's work is very important.

"It makes a big difference for the families," Wiersma explained.

The need to do something helpful came to Roon several months before her CRWRC volunteer trip. A pastor's wife, she could not justify spending her time as a retireee sitting around and doing nothing. "I just wanted to make a little difference and show my appreciation for what God's done for me," she explained.

"I felt like I can't be retired and not do something productive."

Roon will travel back home to Michigan later this week, where she said she will spread the joy to her friends at church in hopes they will come volunteer, too. She's also going to schedule her next CRWRC work trip as soon as possible, she added with a smile. "I've got a bundle of energy that needs to be put to good use."

Stories like Roon's make Elsinga smile because the work CRWRC does is not only aimed at helping those who have had their homes severely damaged. "One of the joys we have is seeing new people come aboard and have great experiences."

And because of how much longer the Hurricane Ivan recovery will take in northwest Florida, he added that he likes hearing the stories of volunteers wanting to bring back their friends to help in the future. "We'll be here until it's done."


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